METGASCO CEO Peter Henderson is so confident that his company's produced water is safe, he was prepared to drink it in front of local media on Wednesday. At a holding pond site on Pollocks Road, he was attempting to quell community concerns about an approval from the EPA and Richmond Valley Council to dump five million litres of treated water into the Casino Sewage Treatment plant.
Under the eagle eye of the local media Mr Henderson drank from the glass, which appeared to be clear and free of sediment. To a derisory chorus of "take it from the bottom Peter" from local activists gathered outside the perimeter, an assistant scooped water from the pond with a makeshift device and transferred it to a glass.
"It's just salty water," Mr Henderson said after water quality testing commissioned by Metgasco declared the water safe for irrigation purposes and possibly for livestock.
"It's important that decisions
made in this community are based on fact," he said.
Mr Henderson said that discharging the produced water into the sewage plant was exactly the same process as that used by other local companies.
"It's a considered decision based on the quality of the water."
He asserted that making prior decisions on how to deal with produced water after CSG mining operations was like putting the cart before the horse.
"Before you can decide what you're going to do with produced water, first you have to know how much gas you're producing, how much water you're dealing with, (then) get production licences and ensure a proper environmental approach. Only after that do we get a chance to drill wells. Nothing will happen unless we are allowed to demonstrate that our business is safe."
He claimed that Metgasco does not use dangerous chemicals in the drilling process.
"We're a heavily regulated industry. There are at least four different regulatory parties that we have to deal with."
He added that the holding ponds had plenty of freeboard (safety margin) to cope with heavy rains and avoid spills that might contaminate sensitive wetlands downstream.
Meanwhile, activist Davey Bob Ramsey emerged smiling from the Casino courthouse, to cheers from a largely sympathetic crowd of concerned locals. He had been cleared of a charge of entering enclosed lands after locking on to a bulldozer on June 20 to protest the construction of the 'temporary holding pond' at Pollocks Road. A claim for compensation for a bulldozer allegedly damaged in removing him from his lock-on device was also dismissed by the magistrate.
Davey Bob said he was very much relieved by the result.
"I'm one of thousands in the community who are determined to see that there is no future for CSG in the Northern Rivers," he said. "Community support made this process easy and I have no regrets."
Environmental Defender's Office NSW solicitor Sue Higginson had described him in court as "a gentle, intelligent and sincere man with a profound sense of social and environmental justice", who was "motivated by a strong desire to protect the community".
Ian Gaillard, a regional coordinator of the Lock The Gate movement, which is opposed to CSG mining in the region, refuted Mr Henderson's argument that the Pollocks Road holding pond was typical of those used in Metgasco operations
"This is one of several ponds used by Metgasco and they are all quite different in their make-up," he said.
"As far as toxicity goes, this one might be at the low end of the scale but there are others at the high end. Mr Henderson only scooped the water from the top of the pond where rain had topped it up. He should have scooped it from the bottom.
"I think it will be proven that these ponds exceed Australian water standards by a significant margin. Though Metgasco claim they don't use chemicals in their drilling, they do contain drilling fluids and biocides of various kinds which have been proven to be dangerous to human, livestock and wildlife health."
He said the court case had been a great outcome for the community.
"Davey's actions in this will be repeated until such time as the Northern Rivers is declared CSG free," Mr Gaillard said.